November 30, 2005

I liked Randolph Ross's Thursday NYT theme, particularly COCO CHANNEL, and the plethora of 7-letter entries livening up the puzzle—PICASSO, SPOONED, MIMOSAS, INSULTS, SUITS ME. (Never heard of the TACONIC State Parkway, though. Sounds like an adjective roughly describing tostadas and burritos.) As for MENORCA, I'm more familiar with the spelling Minorca, but the Wikipedia entry explains that the island is spelled with an E in Catalan and Spanish. Other tidbits from the article: The Phoenicians called it Nura ("island of fire") to honor Baal. The local dialect includes the word xumaquer (shoemaker, borrowed from English during the British occupation a few hundred years ago). Last but not least, we can blame the Minorcan town of Mahon for lending its name to mayonnaise.


Vic Fleming and Bruce Venzke joined forces on the NYS Themeless Thursday. Vic, a judge who oversees many drunk-driving cases, often has a trademark sobriety entry in his puzzles; this time, he and Bruce went the other way with TIES ONE ON and MOONSHINE. There's a subtle minitheme at the bottom of the long entries, 5D and 10D. Two of the trickier clues both led to G answers: "Like 'Charlotte's Web'" was RATED G, and "Ride attire" was G SUIT. The alphabet party continued with A LINE and B FLAT, not to mention ABC SPORTS. I've never heard of actor TOL Avery, but I'll file his name away for his next cruciverbal appearance. Another great clue was "Family members?" for GENERA.

David Kahn's LA Times puzzle is fun if you're familiar (as I am) with the TV show, "Monk"; if you know nothing about the title character, this might not be the puzzle for you.

NYS 5:03
NYT 4:09
LAT 3:10
CS 2:51


November 29, 2005

At last! A crossword with a theme devoted to medical terminology! Of course, the average high school biology class teaches you the bone names featured in Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "A Bone to Pick," but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it all the same. My favorite clue was "Ma is one" for CELLIST.

Ben Tausig's tire-themed puzzle, "Spare Time," had three theme entries notable for also containing some unusual consonant runs (LDF, WNGL, TSCR, and NTV); the fill also had runs of LLC, DRDR, and RLST. As always, there are fun clues; TOUPEE is "comb-over alternative," EWES is "wool coat wearer," and "doesn't give up on a dream?" is SLEEPS LATE (which I wish I could do). And three hip hop names are included—DR DRE, ICE T and LL COOL J. Include one rapper, and it's boring; fit three in, and now you've got a little something. I'd never heard of ESG; according to this link, they were an "art-funk ensemble from the South Bronx" whose beats were sampled by groups such as the Wu-Tang Clan and TLC, leading ESG to release a 1992 EP called "Sample Credits Don't Pay Our Bills."

I'd probably appreciate Seth Abel's NYT puzzle more if I'd ever heard of the song MISTER IN BETWEEN. It's a little surprising to see ABEL in a puzzle by someone of the same name, isn't it? I wonder if Mr. Abel put it in there himself, or if Will reworked the fill in that corner. (A few months back, there was a puzzle by Frank Longo in one of the Games publications containing LONG O, clued as the long vowel sound. And there was a more recent puzzle that had both ABIDE and ESTES—but the puzzle wasn't by Peter or Harvey.)

NYT 4:10
Tausig 4:00
NYS 3:54
LAT 4:21
CS 3:43


November 28, 2005


The theme in Adam Cohen's Tuesday NYT tickled me because it included FLY ROBIN FLY. The lyrics are as follows: Fly, robin, fly. Fly, robin, fly. Fly, robin, fly. Up, up to the sky. (Repeat while disco dancing.) The puzzle's also a pangram, and it's stuffed to the gills with perky fill like ASHCAN, ROYKO, JUNGLES, SYLPH, ALOHA STATE, RISOTTO, and BAZAAR.

I also dug Lynn Lempel's "All-Inclusive" puzzle in the Sun, particularly STALLONES THROW, "Rocky ceremonial start to a baseball game?" The fill tended toward name-calling, with YES MAN, MEANIE, NEATNIK, and SCROOGES. I would've liked to see MINEO and DEAN cross-referenced as Rebel Without a Cause costars (rather than DEAN being "college admissions bigwig"). How many of you actually try to picture a map when you come across a clue like "Yonkers-to-Stamford dir." and how many of you just wait to see if it turns out to be ENE, ESE, SSE, or NNE? I generally wait for the crossings to reveal the answer, personally.

NYS 3:49
CS 3:21
NYT 3:18
LAT 3:18


November 27, 2005


I liked Kevan Choset's NYT puzzle, with the Sr., Jr., 3rd theme and a bunch of longer entries that would liven up even a late-week puzzle: ABE LINCOLN and JANITORS, IN CONTEMPT and MOON UNIT, and even POTPIE and ZSAZSA. Am I the only one who sees Leslie Caron in a clue and immediately fills in _I_I, cursing her for starring in both Gigi and Lili? It's such a drag to actually have to glance at the crossing clues, man.


Today's CrosSynergy is by Bob Klahn, and it's probably not really as hard as my comparative times suggest, but if you skip the CS puzzles because they're too easy, you might like this one.

Ogden Porter/Peter Gordon's NYS puzzle improves on standard quip puzzles by having three famous headlines that you may actually be familiar with. The third headline, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, reminds me of a less famous wrong headline from the summer of 1980: "It's Reagan and Ford" in the Chicago Sun-Times. (Turned out to be Reagan and Bush running together.)

Over on the NYT Today's Puzzle forum, Lee Glickstein's latest Topical Punch puzzle was posted Monday morning. If you like topical humor (skewing to the liberal side, given the news out of Washington these days) and good crosswords, check it out.

CS 5:15
NYS 3:11
NYT 2:49
LAT 2:43


November 26, 2005

Topping off the weekend

Peter Abide's Sunday NYT, "High Jinks," was one of those smooth solves where you move throughout the grid, filling in your path as you go. (Or maybe not you. But definitely me.) After not quite being on the same wavelength as Rich Norris yesterday, this puzzle was a nice salve. How many of you knew the founder of the Borden company was GAIL Borden? (That part wasn't on my wavelength.) Plenty of great entries peppered throughout, such as TOWNCAR, UP TO IT, SLAPDASH, DRAGSTRIP, GOT RID OF, BEAM ME UP, EARFULS, TV RATINGS, and the medical terminology crossing of RALE and POLYP. My favorite clues were "one who may give you fits" (TAILOR), "Afghan makeup" (YARN), "cold one" (BEER) and "'hot' one" (MAMA), and "Jazz scores" (BASKETS). The best theme entry was TIPTOP ONEILL, and the worst was LAPTOP DANCER. Yes, it's fun to sneak lap dances into the NYT crossword, but the clue ("Part of Santa's team on a computer?") doesn't do it for me. Can anyone think of a better clue for that?

NYT 8:01
LAT 8:57
CS 3:39


November 25, 2005


Rich Norris's Saturday NYT was filled with tough spots that eluded me, starting with 1 Across ("intro interruption" = WEVE MET) and continuing through every section of the grid. As the minutes ticked by, I was IN A HOLE, but eventually I RAN RIOT over the grid and finished it. While I always appreciate a challenge, and liked plenty of entries (DAME EDNA, HOLD COURT, ROLEPLAY, and the aforementioned WEVE MET) and clues ("neither here nor there" for EN ROUTE), there were a few dry spots (REERECT, the clue "two seater, perhaps?" for MAITRE D, and good ol' RETS). It was kind of odd to see the plurals HUHS and EHS, but they were salvaged by the clue "Hah!" (for SO THERE)—does anyone else hear James Brown?

NYT 8:51
LAT 6:00
Stumper 5:32
CS 3:05

Reagle 10:05
LAW 9:55
WaPo 8:22


November 24, 2005

Just last weekend I was asking for a Joe DiPietro Saturday NYT, and got a Friday one instead. And it was too easy! (Please don't smack me. I'm not the only one in my applet time range.) So many of the longer entries practically filled themselves in. I did start out with MADE A PEEP instead of MADE NOISE, but then ONE COURSE and SEA OTTERS led me to the crossings and the NOISE correction. There's some fantastic fill, though—EIGHTYSIX and BABY TEETH (which was a tricky one for me) were my favorites. You know what? Maybe the folks with the slower solving times are still digesting their Thanksgiving feasts. I'm actually hungry now, since my family sat down to eat at 12:30.

I enjoyed Fraser Simpson's cryptic crossword in the Friday Sun a few days ago. I don't seek out cryptics, but dig 'em when I come across 'em.

My husband's watching this week's episode of Lost right now. Locke was doing a crossword that's been discussed on the internets—for the clue "Enkidu's friend," he fills in GILGAMESH. But thanks to TiVo, I took a good look at that grid. If GILGAMESH is the answer, his crossings are all messed up. From what I could see of the crossing entries, SPRI???C? looks more likely. So I plugged that in at OneLook, and it gave me one possibility: SPRINT PCS. There must be a deeper meaning to this incomprehensible crossword, because the show has so many layers of mysteries. But SPRINT PCS? Frankly, I'm lost.


Don't miss Roy Leban's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, complete with Shakespeare puns, and Cathy Millhauser's WSJ, which was kinda tough.

NYS 8:04
NYT 4:51
LAT 4:36
CHE 3:56
CS 3:20

WSJ 10:12
Reagle tba


November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tonight, I am thankful for mashed sweet potatoes and Michael Shteyman. I was actually thinking this afternoon that it'd be nice to have another Shteyman puzzle soon. Here it is, a Thursday NYT puzzle with the bonus of a Fridayish difficulty level. We've got the standard gleaming fill, with entries like LIZ PHAIR, GAS TAX, US TOUR, CALLER ID, E CARD, and F TENS. We've got the standard Shteyman theme-with-circled-letters aspect, and the trademark shout-outs to college life (TESTERS SHOUT crossing EXAM). Not to mention the polished Shteyman/Shortz cluing, "Mind-set"? for MENSA being just one example. All that's missing is the Russian vibe, replaced here with Spanish and German. (Hey, does anyone else look at ONE CENT and think that it'd make a fine rapper's name?)

There's no Sun puzzle for Thursday since it's a holiday, but there is the cryptic crossword from Friday's Sun to work on while you digest your grand repast.

NYT 6:34
LAT 3:26
CS 2:56


November 22, 2005

Levi Denham paints a clear picture in the Wednesday NYT puzzle, with DRAW POKER, DRAFT BEER, and the other theme entries he penciled in. (Sorry. Too many puns?) I liked the clues and fill, such as "knocked off, in a way" for the synonymous ICED and SLEW, "utter" for OUT AND OUT, "it may be organized" for CRIME. But how come TAKES TEN wasn't clued as "knocks off, in a way"? I've noticed that now I sometimes fill in some answers without reading the clues; what else could T?M?W?RP be, after all?

Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon paired up on the NYS puzzle, "Easy Come..." My favorite clue in this one was "gin maker of note" for ELI WHITNEY. Surely I'm not the only one who thought of spirits flavored with the juniper berry? I love a clue that dupes me (temporarily) in a clever fashion. There's some great fill in this puzzle, too—NINJA, GAZETTEERS, SEERSUCKER, NEXT TO LAST. Since the first two theme entries seemed to substitute an "ease" for an "ee" sound, the third one confused me for a bit. Then I realized the trick was adding EZ, so CANNES FRANCE became CEZANNES FRANCE. Nicely executed, Lee and Nancy!


Today's CrosSynergy puzzle by Randall Hartman felt more like a Sun puzzle to me (high praise, indeed). Maybe it was because the PETER theme brought Peter Gordon to mind, or maybe it was because of fill like PLEXIGLAS. There was also a good clue for ASP that seemed new (though it may well have have been used before): "Cleo's feller."

Aah, at last Ben Tausig's weekly puzzle has arrived! It's usually one of Wednesday's highlights, since it typically offers more of a challenge than the other puzzles of the day. One of Ben's trademarks is to use things that sound racy even if they aren't—e.g., "house for rakes and hoes" is TOOLSHED, and "it gets laid in a bathroom" clues TILE. Another fresh touch was defining MCJOB as "Data Entry Associate, say." And I always appreciate "YOND Cassius has a lean and hungry look," because my mom and her friend used that line when they were scoping out my then-skinny dad-to-be in their college English class. It ain't much for romance, but that's my backstory.

Tausig 4:28
CS 4:08
NYT 3:45
NYS 3:42
LAT 3:30


November 21, 2005


I swear the Tuesday NYT puzzles have been getting easier lately. This week's from Nancy Salomon is quite good (aside from the dreaded OLEO)—a solid theme plus good fill like SWISH, FREE FOR ALL, SHAKE IT UP, MOJO, and BED OF ROSES—but too darned easy. Then there are the quaint expressions that have been largely superseded in recent decades: NERTS situations more commonly call for four-letter words now, and the eye in MY EYE has been replaced with another three-letter body part that isn't making it into the NYT crossword in conjunction with MY.

Continuing in the what-happened-to-the-upward-trend-of-difficulty vein, the Tuesday Sun puzzle by Randy Hartman, "Movin' Men," was one of the easiest Sun puzzles I've seen in ages—despite the fact that I was unfamiliar with the nicknames LARRUPIN LOU and RAMBLIN JACK beforehand. (Why, oh why didn't I slow down before I finished the Frank Longo book of killers?)

Have any of you ever tried spreading oleo on an Oreo? How awesome would it be if Nabisco decided to market a version replacing the creme filling with margarine?

CS 3:10
NYS 3:03
NYT 2:33
LAT 3:41


November 20, 2005


What a sweet and romantic puzzle! Wesley Johnson's Monday NYT lays it all out: four 10-letter entries—FALL IN LOVE, GET ENGAGED, GET MARRIED, and SETTLE DOWN—culminating in the central crossing pair of MOM and POP. (We'll assume that BILLS and DEBT aren't necessarily part of the storyline.) If November 21 happens to be Wesley Johnson's parents' anniversary, he definitely wins crossword son of the year. There's also a (presumably unintentional) crossword constructor mini-theme, the symmetrically located Peter ABIDE and Harvey ESTES.

Gary Steinmehl's NYS puzzle, "Child's Play," made me nostalgic for the days of playing tag. I think Peter Gordon got the days mixed up this week, though—the Tuesday puzzle went way faster than the Monday.

NYS 3:55
LAT 3:02
CS 2:55
NYT 2:52


November 19, 2005

Patrick Merrell's plus-sized Sunday NYT was wonderful: It's big, it's harder than the typical Sunday puzzle, and sometimes it's funny. When I filled in my first theme entry, I laughed at the rejected school mascot, ST JOHNS WORT; I want to know what other theme candidates didn't make the cut. I also laughed at "it might make the torso seem moreso" for BRA. (Pat, that's terrible! Do we blame you or Will for that one?) There were plenty of traps in this one, too. LIBELERS ("Name-callers, maybe") could be LABELERS, until you see LABELED a few rows below it."Author Sinclair," of course, could be UPTON or LEWIS, but look over there in the opposite corner for "Author Carroll" to see where LEWIS belongs. The four-letter landlocked country, second letter A? Isn't that always MALI? This time, it's LAOS. (The latter was the only trap that snared me.) Also, I learned that Ping-Pong balls tend to be ORANGE these days.

Anyway, thanks for scheduling a great weekend of puzzles, Will! You can't beat Manny on Friday, Byron on Saturday, and a jumbo Pat on Sunday. (Although other bylines would certainly be welcome, too—here's hoping that Frank Longo, Sherry Blackard, David Kahn, Joe DiPietro, and Bob Klahn make Saturday appearances soon.)

NYT 11:23
LAT 9:32
CS 5:19


November 18, 2005

I love Saturday

If forced to limit myself to just one crossword a week, I'd have to go with the Saturday NYT, and Byron Walden's puzzle is a prime example of why. You've got sparkling entries such as JEBEDIAH Springfield, OH ITS YOU and JUST ME, and EVIL GENIUS. Hall of Fame clues like "Place close to Sundance" for ETTA, "O and W, e.g." for MAGS, "Mustang braking system?" for LASSOS, and maybe "Y beneficiary" for SON. Not to mention great clue/entry combos like "Wayne duds" for BATSUIT, "Pudding content?" for THE PROOF, and "Stymie the feds" for LAWYER UP. Add an overall difficulty level that's both wicked and manageable. Then consider the construction: those corners with stacked 8-letter entries joined by a vertical 15 and each crossed by another 10-letter entry, not to mention the five longish entries crossing the central vertical entry. It's just a fantastic puzzle, isn't it? If only every day could be a Byron Saturday...

NYT 8:20
Newsday Stumper 5:17
LAT 5:05
CS 3:59

WaPo 8:34
LAW 7:35


November 17, 2005


Manny Nosowsky's NYT: Really, I'm just always going to enjoy a themeless puzzle by Manny Nosowsky. The brain gets a good workout, the eyebrows raise a little here and there, and it's a good time. And you have to admire the construction—all those jumbo entries criss-crossing one another, those longish ones stacked up and down and side to side in all four corners—great stuff.

Karen Tracey's NYS: The Weekend Warrior comes on the heels of Karen's recent Saturday NYT, and it's a little easier than her last go-round. Like my favorite Sun puzzles, it's got plenty of Scrabbly fill (SAN JOAQUIN, ALTO SAX, and other words in the QXZ family). There's the quaint ABORNING and UNBOSOMS, GALAHAD (counterposed with "Round Table location"—but it's ALGONQUIN) and ALSATIA. There's the anagram cluing ANAGRAM and "it's full of unknowns" cluing ALGEBRA. And there's the TV trivia of AJ SIMON. Karen, keep making themeless puzzles, please! One question: do "fireballer" and MOUNDSMAN mean a baseball pitcher? I'm not familiar with either term.

*Thank Shortz and Gordon It's Friday.

NYT 6:43
NYS 6:16
LAT 5:06
CS 3:28

WSJ 8:24
Reagle 6:42


November 16, 2005

Elusive Themesday

Brendan Emmett Quigley's NYT: What is this, Airline Appreciation Week at Casa Quigley? First the Sunday puzzle filled with airline names, and then the minimalist COACH/BUSINESS/FIRST-class theme in this puzzle. I actually had a tough time extracting the theme when I looked at the puzzle (thanks for the mental assist, Monica)—I was hoping Will had embarked on a new program of spoiling us with themeless Thursday puzzles. This one pretty much played like a BEQ themeless (but easier), so I loved it. And while REPASS is a terrible little bit of fill, it's overcome by the terrific BOB FOSSE, FERRET OUT, and ITS A LULU. Just your standard Quigley-quality super-zippy long entries.

Van Vandiver's NYS: The theme of "RR Xing" hid from me thanks to the red herring at 1D, where JCT was clued as "RR Xing." The actual theme didn't reveal itself to my brain until I'd filled in six of the seven theme entries—suddenly, DAFT CAD was obviously DRAFT CARD without the R and R. "Cold war weapon?" is a fantastic clue for DRISTAN, isn't it? I also liked seeing GMS clued as "Envoy letters," strictly because a friend of mine in Prague once appeared in a TV commercial for the Envoy SUV. They dressed her up in coveralls and a hard hat and smudged her face so she could look like one of the "American steelworkers" in the ad. Gotta film in an overseas steel mill because what American steel company, if it's engaged in the actual manufacture of steel, would take on the liability of a film crew? The Czech producers had to work hard to find a diverse "American" cast; my multiracial friend was joined by assorted immigrants or visitors from Africa and Asia. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

Updated: Joy M. Andrews' LA Times: Did anyone else struggle with this one? It felt like the cluing kept me away from the answers rather than leading me to them, which is not my usual crossword experience. More often (at least with puzzles of the quality I seek out), the clues and entries "sing" together harmoniously, and this one seemed atonal. (Maybe I just had a momentary brain lapse?) One of the theme entries, MUFFET MORSEL, also threw me off; morsels strike me as being drier and more self-contained than curds.

NYS 5:50
NYT 4:47
LAT 4:38
CS 2:56


November 15, 2005

So many good puzzles, so little time

Philip Thomson's NYT: Marjorie Berg's Monday puzzle accentuated the positive, while this puzzle's theme is "there's no..." whatever. Fun puzzle with nice fill like ON THE SLY and SO THERE, and some funny clues like "Lousy eggs?" for NITS. And it gave me probably my best Wednesday NYT finishing time, so that's another plus.

Ben Tausig's Inkwell: "Dinner with the Family" had a hilarious mafia-supper theme—at least MOBSTER BISQUE cracked me up. The puzzle had much to commend itself: PSHAW, ELK clued as "male with a rack," "Thirteen, in NYC" for PBS, KOD ("decked"), "Glass on the radio" for IRA (my best friend used to run into him at her neighborhood gym here in Chicago), "milk container" as a clue for UDDER, "In gear?" for CLAD, "old items" for EXES, and oh yeah, it's also a pangram, just for fun.

Robert H. Wolfe's Wednesday NYS: "It's All Greek to Me" showed me just how many Greek letters I can't identify on sight! I liked seeing WOTAN and ORECK vacuums crossed by GO SOLO and TECHNO, and ELIE clued as "Tahari of fashion" (Elie Tahari, of course, designed that beautiful dress Halle Berry wore when she won her Oscar).

Gary Steinmehl's Tuesday NYS: "We're Back" added US to the theme entries—to best effect in DEADLY SINUS.

Joy M. Andrews' Monday NYS: "Diplomatic Conclusions" was stuffed with seldom-seen fill like OLD IRISH, FILE CLERK, GOOSE EGGS, BiG FISH, and BAEDEKER. I'm not a huge fan of Condoleezza Rice, but turn her into BASMATI RICE in the theme, and I'm all for it.

Updated: Hey, even if you don't normally do the CrosSynergy puzzles, you might like today's outing from Randall Hartman, "Things are Looking Up." Fun theme!

Tausig 5:01
Tues NYS 4:32
Wed NYS 4:24
Mon NYS 3:42
LAT 3:42
CS 3:40
NYT 2:45


November 14, 2005

My membership is paying dividends, as members will have access to each day's LA Times puzzle in Across Lite. It'll be added back into my daily crossword diet.

The NY Sun puzzles have gone AWOL. My standard five-puzzle glut on Monday mornings has been postponed to whenever the puzzles are unloosed on the world.

Sarah Keller's Tuesday NYT kicked my butt. There's a restaurant chain in the Chicago area called Leona's—the last two CruCago dinners have been held there, in fact. My familiarity with that and my unfamiliarity with MAMALEONES killed me (to the tune of 30 or 40 seconds—hey, it felt much longer). There was a typo, too. I figured out the theme right away, but then BABYSNOOKS slipped my mind, and the dastardly "one end of a bridge" clue for TOOTH had me thinking NORTH or SOUTH (despite the "a"). HORRORS and SOBSTORY: those pretty well sum up my experience tonight. Which is unfortunate, because it's really a lovely puzzle. Tight theme, fresh fill like HORRORS and SOBSTORY, perky clues—good stuff.


Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Cel Mates," made me laugh when I figured out MULAN ROUGE. Cute theme, plus it's a pangram, and I think it's a good example of what an easyish crossword should be. The only entry that seemed a little iffy was SWIPER, and it's not iffy at all for anyone whose kid watches "Dora the Explorer."

NYT 4:17
CS 3:01
LAT 2:55


Puzzability quiz in Esquire

Mike Shenk, Amy Goldstein, and Robert Leighton (the Puzzability folks) created a 50-question quiz, labeled "The Hardest Quiz Ever," for the December issue of Esquire. I don't see the quiz on the magazine's website, so go to the newsstand and pick up a copy (look for Bill Clinton on the cover) if you don't subscribe. It's more than merely a trivia quiz—much more. Wordplay, math, logic, trivia with unexpected twists.

If you submit a full set of complete answers by November 28 (a two-week deadline for a monthly publication?!?), Esquire will list your name (or your team's name) under the rubric "Esquire's Smartest Readers Ever." I will expect to see some familiar names on that list. Get cracking!


November 13, 2005


I am in favor of Marjorie Berg's positively themed Monday NYT. It did take me a minute to figure out the theme, which was a little oblique since the theme words are all used differently in the context of the theme entries. I suppose it would have been awkward to clue BEHINDTHEWHEEL in a way that indicated affirmative support of said WHEEL, and it is a Monday puzzle, after all. It's nice to see 8- and 9-letter fill worked into the grid, isn't it?

NYS tba
CS 4:09
NYT 3:06
LAT 2:41


November 12, 2005

Boy, I just flew through the Sunday NYT puzzle by Brendan Emmett Quigley, "Flying Start." It wasn't until I got to the theme entries starting with VIRGIN and DELTA that I looked into the theme and saw that it was phrases starting with airline names. (Will had to run this one quickly, since the demise of SONG is just a few months off.) I wonder if Brendan was cognizant of the Hibernian vibe, with OREILLY, LIAM, and AIDAN? This grid was chock full of fantastic fill, as we expect from BEQ—MR MAGOO, QWERTY, TIPTOEING, AL FATAH, and POLE VAULT, to list a few—and commensurate clues. "Bar challenge" for POLE VAULT, for example, and "They haven't any definite forms" for AMOEBAE, and "Is that what you expected?" for SURPRISED. To answer that question, yes, this is the quality I expected from BEQ (one part delicious Saturday, one part expansive Sunday), so I wasn't surprised by it. Thanks, Brendan and Will, for a meaty challenge. (If you're still working on the Sunday puzzle and you're here to get a few answers, 'fess up.)

Although technically I can stop any time I want, I did buy another puzzle book today. It's The Big Book of Crossword Puzzles: 288 Puzzles for the Crossword Fanatic. It's actually four Sterling books in one: two books of puzzles from the '50s and '60s, which I may well skip; one book of US Airways puzzles edited by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, and—the reason I bought this—one book of "Beat the Champ" puzzles that includes the finishing times for past ACPT champions Ellen Ripstein, Jon Delfin, and Doug Hoylman. I love to see how my times stack up against other people's times, so this should be fun.

Updated: Hey, a CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge that actually challenges! Bob Klahn can always be counted on to cook up a tough one.

NYT 9:49
CS 6:51


November 11, 2005

Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July

Nicely done, Karen Tracey! The Saturday NYT is packed with the hard stuff. Right off the bat I fell into the ITARTASS trap instead of IZVESTIA, and then I opted for Fer SHUR instead of Fer SHER (and Google tells me how wrong I was—800 hits vs. 10,000). "Big name in oil," ends with CO? Must be CONOCO. Or SUNOCO. Right? No. Guess again, and forget about the petroleum industry. One doesn't see PROPINQUITY or READY TO ROCK pop up in too many crosswords, either. Thank goodness for gimmes's see, which entries were obvious? A LA MODE and some of the words hanging off of it...and that's about it. (It's always fun when the constructor solves her or his own puzzle on the applet and needs more time than I do!)

Kumar Bulani's Washington Post puzzle, "At the U.N. Cafeteria," was a lot of fun. The theme entries hinge on breakfast-related puns using names of countries. I'm always a sucker for geographical puns—don't ask me why. If you like that sort of thing, have at it.

With Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle, "Creatures' Features," I had one of my fastest 21x21 solving times ever. Once you've got a few letters filled in for one of the theme entries, it's pretty obvious, and there were 10 theme answers, so badabing, done.

The Saturday "Stumper" by Daniel Stark was frightfully easy. The words in the fill were mostly quite ordinary (SHOE TREE is about as exotic as it gets), and the clues were correspondingly straightforward. Now, I like themeless puzzles to combine sexy fill—unusual words and phrases, Scrabbly letters, daring letter combos—with infernal clues. I want them to put my brain through the paces.

NYT 8:06
Stumper 3:53
CS 3:34

WaPo 9:15
Hex 6:11


November 10, 2005


I've grown used to Eric Berlin's puzzles having some ingenious wrinkle to them, so I'm looking at this one and trying to identify some sort of theme or twist. I got nothin'. It's themeless, isn't it? I love themeless puzzles, but I just get suspicious with this byline. Okay, assuming it is indeed themeless: What a great puzzle! The fairly current X PRIZE entry is a winner, plus CEZANNE and TOLSTOY's full names, BETELGEUSE (who isn't picturing Michael Keaton in "Beetlejuice" right now?), BALI HAI, and GALLEONS. Yes, we see the OGEES and the ESE, but we forgive them because the longer entries are so tasty. (But after a workout, isn't a cool or warm shower better than a HOT SHOWER?)

The Friday Sun puzzle, "Frame-Up," is by Crossword Fiend denizen David Sullivan (a.k.a. Evad). This puzzle offers a goofy rebus mechanism in which / means a spare in bowling and X means a strike in bowling. Complicating matters, the multiple-X thingies have nicknames, apparently, and these nicknames are used in the theme entries. XBREAKERS (strike-breakers) was easy enough, as was TALKINGXXX (turkey), but I had to Google when I was finished to understand TAKEOUTXX. Apparently two strikes are called a double, and a takeout double is some sort of tactic in the game of bridge. (I have never bowled two strikes in a row, and my bridge knowledge has been gained almost exclusively via crossword puzzles.) Anyway, great job, Dave! A twisty theme combined with CAREBEAR and BIKEPATH, and down entries crossing all those X's.


Congrats to Tyler Hinman for both turning 21 and having today's WSJ puzzle! Great RE- theme, particularly DEUTSCHE REMARKS and MISS THE REBUS. The best non-theme stuff included BAD SEED for "babysitter's nightmare," "Sub stratum?" for SALAMI, soccer's OLE OLE (I've also heard it chanted as "ole-e-e-e, ole ole ole," but that'd be a much longer entry), and "Movie that might rope you in?" for OATER. And the MARS BAR is my favorite candy bar, even if its manufacturer insists on calling it the Snickers with Almond these days. (Hell, why don't they rename the Three Musketeers "Snickers without Anything Decent"?)

NYT 5:35
NYS 5:29
CS 2:52

WSJ 9:13
Reagle 7:51


Cranium crushed, but structurally sound

This week, I finished Frank Longo's new book, Mensa Crosswords for the Super Smart: 72 Cranium-Crushing Challenges. After 72 puzzles in about 10 days, I must say I feel better prepared for Stamford.

The easiest puzzle took me about 6 minutes (i.e., it was harder than today's Themeless Thursday in the Sun). And the hardest puzzles? Tougher than the toughest Saturday NYT puzzles. Some of the difficulty lay in ferreting out the occasional obscure entry (they wouldn't be called "cranium crushers" if the words were all familiar ones), but the bulk of it was just figuring out what on earth Frank was getting at with the clues. There's a preponderance of long entries—looking at one random puzzle (#67), I see four 15's, a 13, six 11's, and eight 7's. What happens when you have all these wide-open grids full of long entries you haven't seen umpteen times before? You have to suss out the meaning of clues you haven't mastered umpteen times before. And then these long entries are bound together by shorter answers with nonstandard clues. In puzzle #67, for example, Frank serves up "she played Pearl on The Beverly Hillbillies" instead of "actress Arthur," and "Janet Craxton's specialty" where we're accustomed to having a gimme like "orchestral reed." With these challenging puzzles, even a crack solver will have errors (I did, and I'm not the only one) or the occasional blank square. Now that's tough.

Half of the crossword grids in this book lack symmetry. I didn't notice any appreciable difference between the symmetrical and asymmetrical puzzles—they were all good, and the difficulty levels varied among both types. The upshot of the asymmetry is that it allowed Frank to include a ton of great longer entries (with their great clues), rather than having to sacrifice a lot of marvels at the altar of crossword symmetry. After solving the 36 asymmetrical puzzles in this book, I'd definitely be open to Will Shortz and Peter Gordon giving the occasional devious themeless puzzle special dispensation from that convention. All symmetry does, really—besides making grids visually pleasing—is place strictures on the constructor. I'd rather have a fantastic puzzle with a few "misplaced" black squares than a symmetrical puzzle that required compromises in overall quality just to hew to this design tradition.

At $7.95, this book offers an astonishing value for your entertainment dollar. I probably whiled away a good 10 hours with this book, so it was like seeing five movies but without being coerced into buying five boxes of $4 popcorn. If the puzzles take you longer than that, it becomes an even more cost-effective proposition for you. If these are two-hour puzzles for you, you're talking a whopping 144 hours of diversion for the same low price! (Would you believe I'm not getting kickbacks? Amazing, I know.)

Those of you who have waded into the book already, what do you think? Was the difficulty level what you were expecting? And how do you feel about the asymmetrical grids?

(Congratulations on another premier publication, Frank! And Peter, kudos for your editing; your changes are generally invisible to the solver, but I know they must be in there somewhere.)


November 09, 2005

Thursday madness

Okay, it's fine to occasionally have an NYT puzzle that needs to be printed out in PDF form for solving. But to let some solvers into the applet with yesterday's puzzle, and to keep everyone else from getting at the PDF until 10 after the hour? Most bothersome.

Anyway—The Thursday NYT is by Lee Glickstein and Craig Kasper, and it's got unchecked, unnumbered rebus-type squares that presumably would throw off both Across Lite and the timed applet. Supplementing WATER WATER/EVERYWHERE and the watery rebuses, the middle of the grid's got YACHTED crossing Lake TAHOE. Two of the theme entries are WHITE[WATER] and [WATER]GATE; if only the current administration's scandals included the word WATER, Lee and Craig could have included more than a mere two White House scandals. (How about another Cru special to give cruciverbal heft to other scandals, Lee?) There's some nice longer fill here, too—ONION ROLL, ANNE MEARA, SAME OLD, PACHELBEL, DOWN EAST. Nifty twist in construction, guys.

Over in the NYS, David Kahn's Themeless Thursday crosses two baked-goods men, JELLY ROLL MORTON and MAX BIALYSTOCK (it's bialy day: "Bialy, e.g." was the clue for ONION ROLL in the NYT), and tosses in a PIE CRUST to boot. There are two pluralized first names, ERICAS and ETHANS, which reminds me that my son's class includes one "Ethan with an E" and one "Ithan with an I"; this does not constitute permission to put the name ITHAN into crosswords, however. It's a good puzzle, but I'm always a tiny bit disappointed when a themeless doesn't fight me for a little longer.


Okay, this is bizarre. When doing Ben Tausig's latest puzzle, "Underemployed," I felt like it was his hardest puzzle in ages. And yet, my solving time was shorter than usual. One contributing factor, perhaps, was the inclusion of three "25-Down option" clues that I encountered before solving 25-Down ("Bar food?" for SUSHI). Even if it didn't add to my solving time, it was fun to have that extra puzzle within the puzzle. And "husbands, or a wife" was a fresh way to clue MRS. There may be those who would say the plural of MR has to be MESSRS, but if my sister and I went out without our husbands, I really don't think we'd refer to them as "the messieurs."

NYS 5:32
NYT 5:14
Tausig 3:41
CS 3:10


November 08, 2005

It looks like slower-than-usual Wednesday solving times for Ed Early's musical NYT. There may be people who immediately link, say, CAB CALLOWAY and JIVE, or WOODY HERMAN and BIG BAND, but I am not one of them. "Big jerk" as a clue for TUG misled me; I was thinking OAF and APE and CAD (are there any 3-letter words for nice guys?). And "up" is always wide open for a 5-letter answer starting with A—ASTIR, AWAKE, and ALOFT would do about as well as AT BAT. I liked the longer fill in this puzzle, with TUNA MELTS, SLALOMED, and BONEYARD.

In the NYS, we have a fairly easy outing from Gary Steinmehl, "Disneyfication." The "American Idol" theme entry fell immediately, but DUMBO BROOKLYN (short for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass," apparently) was more elusive for this non-New Yorker. The fill didn't excite me terribly, but with a clever theme containing three 15s and two 13s, I suppose we make allowances.

Updated: I haven't gotten to the Tausig puzzle yet—sick kid. (My kid, that is, not Ben Tausig.)

NYT 4:49
NYS 4:12
Tausig tba
CS 3:14


November 07, 2005

Tuesday: New and improved

Whew! Now that's more like it. Maybe it's just not a good idea to solve a dozen puzzles and time yourself after spending seven hours traveling? I'm feeling much better after posting a decent time for the Tuesday NYT.

Speaking of which—nice puzzle by Gail Grabowski and Nancy Salomon. Gail's been doing solo puzzles for a while now, so I'm guessing this puzzle had been in the pipeline for some time. News flash for cluers and editors: AFROS have made a comeback in the last few years, so the preponderance of clues referencing the '60s or '70s are out of date. Anyone have a great hair-related (or non) clue for AFRO/AFROS? SLUSHY's a good word; is that the spelling used for the frozen concoctions Apu sells on "The Simpsons"? Which reminds me—that executive acquitted of financial fraud charges, Richard Scrushy, has an awesome name. I'm not sure what the word scrushy would mean, but it should totally be a word. Scrunchy meets squishy meets slushy meets screechy.

Timothy Powell's NYS puzzle, "Tsar Search," has nothing to do with Russian aristocrats and everything to do with an ST/TS swap. I liked the puzzle, but haven't figured out one of the clues: 12D, "blind, essentially," is ANTE. Huh? Is this about poker? (Dave Sullivan's Friday NYS includes one theme entry that had me at a loss. It turned out to combine a slang term from the theme—which I won't spoil yet—with a term from bridge, and everything I know about bridge, I learned from crosswords.)


If you enjoy early-week puzzles, Randolph Ross has a wiener winner in the CrosSynergy "Get Your Hot Dogs." I've never heard the first theme phrase, KNEW HIS ONIONS. According to World Wide Words, the phrase originated in the 1920s in America. Similar phrases that were used at the time included "know one's eggs" and "know one's sweet potatoes." Around the same time, Americans were fond of animal anatomy phrases like "the bee's knees" and others that haven't survived, like "elephant's instep" and "gnat's elbow."

NYS 4:14
CS 3:26
NYT 2:54


A bit off

I returned home last night and got all caught up on the Friday through Sunday puzzles—but I'm not posting my solving times. Because they sucked, incomprehensibly. If you're usually a little behind me, just assume you beat me this weekend. And if you're usually a little ahead of me, pretend I was right there, just a couple seconds slower.

A very nice hardware-themed Monday NYT from Jay Livingston. Pairing NORA and ASTA made both entries fresher, and TURBAN was a nice hat for the IMAM below it. There was some decent 8-letter fill, including MYSTIQUE and FOLLOW ME.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Sit for a Spell" in the NYS was good and Scrabbly (yes, I know Scrabble doesn't allow proper nouns like ZIMMER and JETER, but I'm talking about high-scoring letters). You've got 1A, "it might be right under your nose" = ZIT—and aren't those zits some of the peskiest ones? TURGID, INFINITI, LOLITA? Good stuff. (And if ZIMMER and JETER are actually in the Scrabble dictionary as uncapitalized words, pretend I gave other examples.)

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle is another tribute to the late Don Adams. I never, ever watched "Get Smart," but the previous tribute puzzle(s) gave me all the theme answers.

NYS 3:46
NYT 3:10
CS 2:50


November 03, 2005

Friday, at last

I liked Martin Ashwood-Smith's Friday NYT. Sure, it was easier than yesterday's puzzle by Byron, but we can't hold that against it. Who'd a thunk RABAT would make an appearance two days in a row? I'm not wild about the entry LESSON TWO, but check out the construction of this thing—those four 9-letter verticals that connect the three central 15's to the top or bottom 15's? That looks...difficult. I got NEUF ("dix preceder") only through the crossings—my brain came up with Fort Dix and ipso dixit. I also got duped by "megabucks event?"—5 letters, ending in O? I filled in LOTTO before RODEO revealed itself.

The NYS Weekend Warrior by Ogden Porter (né Peter Gordon) had some tricky clues, like "hears without ears?" for AITCH and "weak heart" for THREE. And C AND W was an elusive entry—I'm used to R AND D and R AND R, but parse Peter's entry until the W showed up. I can't say I've ever heard of Tony winner JIM DALE. And I hatehatehate the term GAL PALS; yes, it's in the language and utterly fair game for a crossword, but I just don't like the phrase. I loved BAA BAA, however!

I'll be away until Sunday night, and the to-do list down below will be waiting for me. I'm half done with Frank Longo's new book of cranium crushers. I'm trying not to devour them all at once, but during a weekend away from all the online puzzles? I can't be held responsible if I should finish them all...

NYS 6:49
NYT 6:01

To-do list:

Fri: WSJ, CS
Sat: NYT, CS
Sun: Reagle, Boston Globe, WaPo, CS


November 02, 2005

I've gOTTA WArn you

Byron Walden's Thursday NYT is the puzzle Will Shortz called a wower, featured in the finals of last weekend's Westchester Crossword Tournament. I don't know that I'd call it a wower (is that really a word?), but I will say wow and hooray! A Thursday puzzle that's Friday+ hard! Without the circles in the grid, I suspect many solvers would have just thought this was a tough puzzle and missed seeing the elegant twist of six capital cities divided between two words in the theme entries. Plenty of trademark Byronic touches, like APOLLO XI and PUBLIC TV side by side, IS IT ME and HAS A GO, stern clues like "receivers of manumission" for SERFS.

The NYS by Patrick Blindauer offered two theme entries that described the central 15-letter entry, which is MAKE UP OR BREAK UP, split and mixed in an alternate-letter mishmash. My favorite clues were "it's not a cheap shot" for BOTOX and "exmaple, for example, for example" for TYPO.


Byron, you're best known for your themeless puzzles. What prompted you to make this puzzle? My guess is you were reading a menu and saw ROME lurking in the Denver omelet, or saw AMMAN in team manager in the sports pages. It couldn't have been seeing a mascara case, because I can't say I've ever heard anyone talk about a mascara case. (Lipstick case, yes; mascara, no.) We'll forgive you and Will for not knowing that—but clearly, the world of crossword editing and construction could benefit from including more women.

NYT 6:54
NYS 5:11
CS 2:53


November 01, 2005


Randall Hartman's Wednesday NYT has a nice double-homophone theme. It's also got the new (at least according to the Cruciverb database) entry SMATTERING. And a new clue for EROTIC, "like the Kama Sutra"—other clues used frequently in the past include steamy, titillating, hot, and arousing; variously, past clues have also alluded to R, X, and XXX ratings (so which is it?). There's also a possible medical myth in the clue for FEVERS, "they're dangerous when they're high"; I could swear my kids' health reference books assure me that even a high fever poses no risk in and of itself.

Ed Early's NYS puzzle features a quote from Andrew Young, spiced up with the "feigned laughter" HAR HAR, MOISTURIZER, and the potent potables ZIMA and OUZOS.


Ben Tausig's "That's Rich" puzzle was deliciously chocolaty (though I'd prefer a MILK, DARK, and SEMISWEET theme—WHITE chocolate does not deserve the name). Using the recent movie DARK WATER for one theme entry lent the puzzle the standard Tausig contemporary touch. I also liked "Calvin going, often" for DECAL and the game STRATEGO (who remembers the old TV commercials for that?). Surely I'm not the only one who sees a certain string of letters and fills in ARSENIC before seeing that the clue is for ARSENIO? Happens every time.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle is another one of those ones with the bundled theme sub-entries of indeterminate length (e.g., "play by play by play" FOUL MIRACLE FAIR). A CrosSynergy puzzle that took me longer than the Sun and NYT puzzles? Astonishing!

CS 4:32
NYS 4:27
Tausig 4:17
NYT 3:44